April 10, 2023 11 min read

Guide to Kayak Sails

Green kayak with white sails

If you already own a kayak, then you’ll know just how fun, peaceful, and enjoyable paddling can be. But, with that being said, there are times in every paddler's journey when you wish someone would just take over and do all the hard work for you. And sadly, you can’t just teleport your paddle-loving friend into your ‘yak with you, but what you can do is add a kayak sail. 

Kayak sails are an excellent piece of paddling gear as they allow you to harness the power of the wind and propel your kayak through the water at faster speeds. Traditional sailing boats and kayaks use their sails in the same way and allow you to sit back, relax, and take in the beauty of the water around you without having to tire yourself out in the process.

If adding a kayak sail to your boat sounds as heavenly to you as it does to us, then you’ll want to keep on reading as we’re providing you with the ultimate guide to kayak sails. We’re going to cover their advantages, how to choose the right sail for your kayak, and even how to maintain your sail to keep it in peak condition for years to come. 

Advantages of Using a Kayak Sail

White wooden wood boat with a sail

If you’re on the fence about purchasing a kayak sail, then we feel it is important that you know all of the advantages that this handy piece of kit can give you. 


The first advantage, and of course one of our favorites, is the fact that a kayak sail will amplify the fun of kayaking tenfold. If you’ve been a dedicated paddler for a while, then there is nothing better than switching things up once in a while, and what better way to do that than by harnessing the wind and slicing your way through the water? 

With a kayak sail, you’ll get to enjoy your kayak from a different perspective, and you’ll find that you can travel faster, cover more distances, and enjoy sights that you may not have witnessed if you were to paddle traditionally.


Many kayaker sailors who transform their kayak into a sailing kayak will agree that one of the biggest benefits of a sail is the speed it brings you. If you are a competent paddler, then you’ll be able to reach fairly fast speeds with just your paddle in hand, however, you’ll get fatigued very quickly, and that speed, although impressive, has nothing on the speed you’ll reach with a sail.

Whether you want to get back to land in a hurry or if you want to cover vast distances in one outing, the speed that a kayak sail can reach will help you do that, especially if the wind is on your side.


A kayak sail eliminates the need for paddling and allows kayak sailors to sit back, relax, and watch the world go by. Sometimes you just need a break in nature, and if you truly want to enjoy your surroundings without having to worry about coordinating your strokes and powering your kayak, then a sail is just the thing you need. 


What many people don’t understand is the amount of energy it takes to paddle a kayak. You see, an hour of kayak paddling burns almost as many calories as you would surfing, swimming, or even at a spin class. And with a sail, if you reach the point of exhaustion, you can simply prop up your kayak sail, let your good old trusty friend the wind take over, and get to where you want to be with little to no effort from you. 

We’ve gone into depth about the calories you burn kayaking, along with whether the sport is a good workout over on How Many Calories Do You Burn Kayaking? Spoiler alert: It’s a lot, and kayaking is an excellent low-impact option for those who want to get their body moving and their heart rate elevated.

Kayak Fishing

A kayak sail is an alternative to a pedal drive fishing kayak that allows you to power your ‘yak by the use of your legs. Kayak sails allow anglers to fish and move through the water at the same time, and unlike pedal kayaks and paddles, a kayak sail is extremely quiet and eliminates splashing sounds that could scare away your potential catch. 

Many kayak anglers also enjoy the fact that you can troll through the water as the sail allows the kayak to continue moving while the bait hook is dragged behind the kayak.

Kayak Sail Designs

Colorful kayak sail design

Now that we’ve covered the advantages of kayak sails let’s delve into the different kayak sail designs so you can better understand which one would suit you and the wind conditions that you frequently paddle in. 

Downwind Sail

The first sail option is a downwind sail that is also referred to as a v-shaped sail. Downwind sails take the shape of a V, with the largest section of the sail area at the top and the smallest at the bottom. These sails are normally attached to the front of the kayak, and they allow the kayak to travel at considerable speeds when heading downwind. 

Due to the downwind sails top-heavy design, however, they aren’t the best choice for small or lightweight vessels that plan to paddle in strong winds as they could very well tip the kayak over. And if you hadn’t already guessed, one of the biggest downfalls of a downwind sail is the fact that they’re fairly useless if your chosen destination is in the direction the wind is coming from. 

Circle Shape Sails

A circle sail is one of the most common and most used kayak sails as they are ideal for beginners, and they’re fairly straightforward to use. This type of sail mounts to the bow or the center of the kayak and features a viewing window so you can see where you’re going, and similar to a downwind sail, it can only travel in downwind directions. 

A circular sail, however, is easy to collapse and set up in a matter of seconds, making them extremely straightforward to store and assemble on your kayak. 

L-Shape Sails

The most technical and difficult to use kayak sail is an L-shape sail which works in a similar way to sailing on a traditional sailing boat. L-shape sails are hoisted on a fitted center mast and can be maneuvered to transport the kayak in any wind direction. 

If you have some sailing skills under your belt, then an L-shape sail makes a fantastic downwind and upwind sail, but if you’re a complete beginner, we suggest sticking to a circular sail and working your way up from there.

Kayak Sail Materials

As well as coming in different shapes, kayak sails also come in different materials, which factor into their price and quality.

  • Plastic sails are durable, flexible, and incredibly lightweight, which makes them extremely efficient out on the water. They aren’t, however, as long-lasting as cloth sails.
  • Laminated cloth sails last longer than plastic sails, but a cloth sail will be heavier and less efficient. 
  • Plastic mastsmay come with a plastic sail, and although they will cut back on costs, they will lack strength and durability. 
  • Aluminum mastsare far more durable, however, if you usually paddle sea kayaks, the salt water will eventually corrode the mast over time. 
  • Carbon fiber mastsmake up some of the best kayak sails, as carbon fiber is extremely strong, rust-resistant, and corrosion-resistant. If you’re a big fan of sea kayaking, then opt for a carbon fiber mast sail to prevent having to replace it in a year or two. 

Choosing the Right Kayak Sail

Blue and white sail attach to a white kayak

The best kayak sail will vary from paddler to paddler as there are numerous factors that go into deciding which one is the best fit. You’ll need to consider the materials, your level of experience, and whether you’ll be paddling downwind or upwind. 

For example, if you’re new to kayak sailing and you often paddle in the ocean downwind, then a plastic circular or v-shaped sail with a carbon fiber mast should be your top choice. The plastic sail will be lightweight and efficient, the carbon fiber mast won’t corrode in salt water, and the circular or v-shape sail design is perfect for beginner paddlers who plan to sail downwind. 

If you’re an experienced sailor who wants to travel upwind in the ocean, let’s say, then a plastic L-shaped sail with a carbon fiber mast will be durable and suitable for heading both downwind and upwind.

How to Attach a Kayak Sail to Your Kayak

When you purchase a kayak sail, it should come with all the necessary hardware and instructions that you’d for installation. But, if you happen to buy one second-hand, for example, the instructions may not be available. Below are some simple instructions for installing an L-shape kayak sail. 

  1. Step one: Attach the sail mast to your kayak by threading it through a hole or on a mount on the deck of your boat. Secure it in place with straps or bolts. 
  2. Step two: Install the boom (the horizontal beam that holds the bottom of your sail in place) with hooks or clamps.
  3. Step three: Fasten the sail by threading a rope through the bottom of the sail and tying it to the boom. You may also need to attach the top of the sail to the mast, but this will depend on the type of sail you purchase. 

Circular kayak sails easily attach to bungee areas, or you can install cleats on either side of the kayak seat. Again, this will depend on the type of circular sail you purchase. And V-shape sails usually come with a strap that wraps around the front end of the kayak, and once you’ve finished that step, you can secure it in place by attaching the sail ropes to bungee areas or d-rings. 

Kayak Sailing Tips

Red and yellow sail attached to a kayak

If you’re new to kayak sailing, then keep these following tips in mind, as they may make all the difference once you’re out on the water. 

Leash Your Paddle

When your kayak paddle is not in use, we highly recommend leashing it to prevent it from falling in the water and floating away from you. Granted, it isn't the end of the world if this happens, but if you want to prevent having to jump in the water to retrieve it, you should add a paddle leash

Add a Rudder

A kayak sail takes away the ability to change direction with paddle strokes, as traditionally, you would perform a sweep stroke to correct the direction in which your kayak is traveling in. If you want to be hands-free while moving through the water with your kayak sail, add a rudder to the back of your kayak. A rudder will allow you to decide which direction you want your kayak to go in by the use of a hand dial that you can place on the left or right side of the kayak seat. 

Wear a Life Jacket

Whether you’re paddling the old-fashioned way or with your fancy new sail, it is crucial that you wear a life jacket. Getting carried away and heading out too far happens, especially with kayak sails, and if you’re unfortunate enough to get into an accident, then a life jacket could quite literally save your life.

Check out our best Kayak Life Jacket reviews for GILI’s top life jacket picks, or if you feel like a standard life jacket is too bulky or restricting, then we’ve also covered 8 Belt Life Jackets to give you more freedom while paddling. 

Check the Weather Before Heading Out

You may initially think that the more wind, the better for kayak sailing, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. If there is too much wind, for example, your kayak could be dragged off course or even completely tipped over. Each and every kayak sail will have a knots rating that it is suitable for, and it’s important that you don’t exceed this wind limit. 

Before you head out on the water, check the weather forecast and ensure that the wind won’t be too strong and unmanageable. 

Always Tell Someone Where You Are Going

If you’re heading out kayak sailing alone, then it’s recommended to inform someone where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone for. If you do get into an accident and you’re already late home, your friend or family member will know exactly where to send a rescue party.

Sail Maintenance

Kayak with a sail docked at the beach

As with the remainder of your kayaking gear, there are a few important steps to take in order to keep your kayak sail in pristine condition for, hopefully, years to come.

Clean Your Kayak Sail

The first step is to clean your sail after every use, especially if you’ve used it in the ocean. Rinse the sail down with clean water, and use a gentle soap with a sponge or cloth to wash away any salt or debris which could cause damage to the materials and hardware over time. 

Inspect All Fittings Regularly

Inspect all fittings on your kayak sail regularly and look out for any cracks or loose bolts. We suggest addressing any issues promptly as you don’t want to cause damage to the sail or have it break on you when you’re far away from shore.

Store It When Not in Use

To avoid exposure to the elements, store your kayak sail in a well-ventilated dry area like a garage or a shed. Ideally, you want to keep all your kayaking gear together and away from any objects that could potentially rip or tear the sail. 


🏆 How big should a kayak sail be?

Kayak sails vary in size depending on the type of sail you choose. The smallest of the bunch is V-shaped sails or circular sails, and L-shaped sails are slightly bigger. 

If you only have a small and lightweight kayak, then you’re better off opting for the smallest kayak sail you can find. If your kayak sail is too big, you could run the risk of tipping over into the water or being dragged out by the wind. And alternatively, if you have a larger and heavier kayak, then a bigger kayak sail will be more efficient and powerful. 

👍 What is the best type of kayak sail?

The best type of kayak sail will come down to your sailing experience and the waters in which you’ll be paddling. If you’re fairly experienced when it comes to sailing, then an L-shaped sail with a carbon fiber mast is the best of the bunch. L-shaped sails can work in both downwind and upwind conditions, and if they do come with a carbon fiber mast, they will be incredibly durable and lightweight. 

If you’re a beginner paddler, on the other hand, then a V-shaped or circular sail would be more manageable. These sails don’t require any expert knowledge making them easy to use out on the water. 

🏝️ Do kayak sails really work?

Yes, kayak sails do really work, and they’re a fantastic addition to your kayak for numerous reasons. Not only will a kayak sail help you travel faster through the water, but it will also allow you to relax, conserve your energy, and be hands-free at all times. 

❓ Can you attach a sail to a kayak?

You can’t just attach any old sail to a kayak, but you can attach a dedicated kayak sail to a kayak. Kayak sails come in three options: V-shaped, circular, and L-shaped, all of which fix your kayak in different ways.

Circular sails are the easiest to install, and they simply clip onto d-rings or bungees that your kayak may already have. Their ease of use and the fact that you don’t need to go drilling any holes into your kayak is what makes them one of the most popular sail options.

The way a V-shaped sail mounts on your kayak varies from brand to brand, but they often come with mounts that are easily secured onto the deck of your kayak with screws. These types of sails also feature strings that clip onto d-rings or bungees on your kayak’s deck.

L-shaped sails are the most difficult to install and will require a mount on the nose end of your kayak. With that being said, all kayak sail options will come with instructions and don’t require experienced handyman skills to install. 

📦 What kayak sails are worth purchasing?

There are a few kayak sails that stand out from the crowd, such as a Hobie Sail, Falcon Kayak Sails, and Sea Eagle Sails. Some popular choices include:

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

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